Category Archives: Plants

Monitors Needed: Let’s See How Goats Help Birds

Mile-a-minute at Clayton East, 18 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

If you’ve been to Frick Park’s Clayton Hill lately you’ve seen a plant blanketing the open area down east of Clayton Hill Loop. Invasive mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) was thick on the ground and climbing every upright when I took these photos in July.

Mile-a-minute blankets Frick’s Clayton East, 18 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Even if I wanted to walk through this area I wouldn’t. The plant has thorns.

Mile-a-minute stem (photo by Kate St. John)
Mile-a-minute stem (photo by Kate St. John)

Invasive plants are discouraging but I have hope they’ll be gone some day. The Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance (ABCA) is conducting a multi-year project to remove invasive plants from Frick Park.

ABCA partners — Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy — are working with Allegheny GoatScape to remove invasive plants like bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) from Frick Park at Clayton Hill to restore native forest habitat for birds and other wildlife. Goats will be “working” areas around Clayton Hill during summer and fall 2020 and again in 2021.

ABCA Ongoing Projects

The restoration area is shown on the ABCA map below.

Map of Frick Park restoration zones from ABCA

What’s hard for us to do by hand is easy for Allegheny Goatscape’s goats. They eat anything. Here’s how it works.

Prior to bringing the goats, Allegheny GoatScape clears a fence line and sets up the fencing and a shelter for the animals. The herd arrives at the site and immediately goes to work eating the vegetation. … Once the goats eat through the vegetation on site, they are transported to their next [assignment] location.

Allegheny Goatscape: How It Works
Allegheny Goatscape goats at work (photo from Allegheny Goatscape)

I haven’t seen goats at Frick but the fenced area at Clayton East looks like goats have been inside it. There’s a lot less mile-a-minute inside the fence.

Now that the goat project is underway ABCA wants to know how the birds respond and is asking birders to count birds in the four restoration zones per hotspot in eBird. Observations are especially needed during August and September fall migration.

Let’s see how goats have helped the birds. Find out more, including the eBird hotspots names, at Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance: Ongoing Projects.

Bring on the goats!

(Mile-a-minute photos by Kate St. John. Goat photo from Allegheny Goatscape. map from ABCA)

Joe-Pye, Jerusalem, and Other Delights

Joe-pye weed (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather was lovely in Schenley Park last week when I found Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) and Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) in full bloom.

Jerusalem artichoke flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) hasn’t bloomed in five months but the leaves are still growing. Some are now three times the size of a real colt’s foot.

Coltsfoot leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is blooming and developing fruit.

Pokeweed in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

But some plants are not faring so well. This porcelain berry has chlorosis, a condition that makes its leaves turn white. This plant is invasive so I don’t feel so bad.

Variegated leaves on porcelain berry, a sign of chlorosis (photo by Kate St. John)

Get outdoors today before the weather gets hot. It will be in the 90s next week!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Bumblebee and Deer

Last week in Schenley Park I stopped by the Westinghouse Fountain to see swamp milkweed and a photogenic bumblebee.

My cellphone camera was able to capture it in flight!

As I left the fountain a doe crossed W Circuit Road and walked between parked cars to the woods beyond. A fawn soon followed but jumped back in fear before the cars and stopped in the road. Fortunately there was no traffic. It was joined by a second fawn.

The two approached me (I missed that shot) then turned away …

… and were joined by a second doe.

Eventually they all walked between parked cars and caught up with the first doe.

Schenley Park’s numerous deer aren’t afraid of people but they learn to fear cars at a very young age.

p.s. My cellphone can take nice closeups of bumblebees but fails on deer at a distance.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Fruit and a Fungus

Last week in the city parks I saw a single fruit and signs of fungus.

In Frick I was surprised to find a pawpaw fruit. I don’t usually see any because the grove of pawpaw trees in Schenley is a clonal clump that rarely produces fruit. This lonely pawpaw will ripen in September.

In Schenley Park tar spot fungus (Rhytisma sp.) is forming on Norway maple leaves as it does every summer. In July the spots are yellowish. By fall they’ll turn black like spots of tar.

Tar spot fungus on maple leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Though the fungus can infect other maple species, it only touches Norway maples in Schenley. Norway maples are invasive so I don’t feel so bad.

(photos by Kate St. John and one from Wikimedia Commons; click on its caption to see the original)

Flowers, Fruit and Frogs

American bellflower, Duck Hollow, 13 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week brought lavender flowers, green fruit and an overabundance of frogs.

I found American bellflower (Campanula americana) blooming along the Duck Hollow trail with some plants reaching six feet tall. My close-up, above, shows how the pistils avoid being fertilized by their own pollen.

American bellflower, Duck Hollow, 13 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) always has a bad hair day. At Schenley Park a long-legged insect stopped by for a sip (top right of flower).

Wild bergamot, Schenley Park, 12 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

In July the unripe fruits of white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) are green. This fall they’ll turn dark blue.

Fringetree fruits, Schenley Park, 12 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Panther Hollow Lake, which is actually the size of a pond, pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) is blooming …

Pickerelweed, Schenley Park, 16 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and there’s a serious overabundance of bullfrogs. Here are just a few examples.

Young bullfrogs, Schenley Park, Panther Hollow lake, 17 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Young bullfrog with tail, Panther Hollow lake, 17 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Young bullfrog in a wavelet, Panther Hollow lake, 17 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
How many bullfrogs can you count? Panther Hollow Lake, 17 July 2020

Herons don’t nest at Schenley Park but may visit for some easy prey. Where’s a great blue heron when you need one?

(photos by Kate St. John)

Insects Seen and Unseen

Aphids on Helianthus, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

12 July 2020

It’s easy to find insects in July.

Aphids in Schenley Park are expanding from plant to plant along the gravel trails, sucking the juice out of Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus).

Yellow hawkweeds (Pilosella caespitosa) are attracting bee-like insects.

Wasp or bee on hawkweed, Schenley Park, 6 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And some insects are unseen but have left evidence behind. Can you see two kinds of insect evidence on this crabapple tree?

Insect evidence on crabapple, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Two Kinds of Bottlebrush

Eastern bottlebrush grass, Schenley Park, 8 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 July 2020

This week I found two bottlebrushes in Schenley Park.

Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) is a native perennial bunchgrass that grows in partial shade, often at the edge of forests. This one was exactly where we should expect it, glowing in the sun by the Bridle Trail.

Meanwhile the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) by Panther Hollow Lake showed off in a last hurrah. They were spectacular from a distance on 9 July but up close the lowest flowers on each spike were faded and brown. Their show is about to end.

Bottlebrush buckeyes at their peak, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Bananas Are Berries

Banana photo from Wikimedia Commons

Of course bananas are fruits but did you know they are technically berries? Here’s what a berry is:

In botany, a berry is a fleshy fruit without a stone (pit) produced from a single flower containing one ovary

Berry (botany) entry on Wikipedia

Blueberries and strawberries easily fit the definition. You can see their fruits forming from the flowers’ ovaries.

Blueberry and strawberry flowers (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Banana flowers, yellow in the photo below, grow in bunches that bloom as the inflorescence opens.

Each flower becomes a fruit in the bunch.

Bananas photo by Augustus Binu via Wikimedia Commons

The lack of a stone — such as a peach pit — does not mean true berries have no seeds. In fact their seeds are often numerous.

Wild bananas have numerous seeds.

Wild bananas have lots of seeds (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But grocery store bananas do not. They were originally cultivated from two naturally occurring seedless species – Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.

Longitudinal slice of a banana (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Our grocery store bananas come from Central America but that’s not where they really come from. The two seedless species are from Indomalaya, first cultivated in Papua New Guinea in 10,000 to 6500 BC.

Original native ranges of the two ancestors of edible bananas (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Learn more cool facts about bananas as berries at Wikipedia: Banana.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

Seen This Week in Schenley Park

Cultivated St. Johnswort at Westinghouse Fountain, Schenley Park, 3 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

There was plenty to see this week in Schenley Park even though the weather was hot.

My best visit was on Thursday morning when my friend Andrea convinced me to come out at 7:30a. I’ve been missing a lot by sitting at my computer until 9am. Best Bird: Louisiana waterthrush! Waterthrushes don’t breed in the park but they stop by in transit before and after breeding.

Best flowers this week include the bright yellow flower (above) near the Westinghouse fountain, a cultivated variety of St. Johnswort (Hypericum).

Teasel (Dipsacus), an invasive alien, has not bloomed yet but the flower buds are visible between the spikes.

Teasel flower buds not yet open, Schenley Park, 2 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is in full bloom.

Yarrow in bloom, Schenley Park, 2 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) bloomed this week. On 30 June they were starting from the bottom.

By 3 July they had nearly made it to the top.

Stop by Panther Hollow Lake or the area across the road from the Westinghouse fountain to see the bottlebrush buckeyes.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Happy Fourth of July!

This Week in Schenley Park

Spotted joe pye weed, flower buds in leaf axils, Schenley Park, 26 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week I found buds and bugs in Schenley Park.

Spotted joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), above, has buds in the leaf axils but when it blooms the showy flowers at the top attract all our attention. This year I’ll have to watch for the side flowers as well.

Enchanters nightshade (Circaea canadensis), below, blooms from the bottom up and has plenty of buds yet to open. The lower buds in the photo are on a different branch.

Enchanters nightshade, Schenley Park 21 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bugs are quite evident now but they are difficult to photograph because they move(!). Below, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) appeared to be rubbing its abdomen on the bird dropping. Was it ovipositing?

Silver spotted skipper on a bird dropping, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Aphids are not plentiful this year — yet — but it’s only a matter of time. There’s only one winged adult in this photo but the juveniles will grow up, sprout wings, and fly to other Helianthus plants to reproduce. It won’t be long before I think there are too many.

Aphids on Helianthus stem (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally, some bugs are never seen but we know they were there … as this leaf attests.

Insect damage on a leaf. No insect visible (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)